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Accession unfolded with ‘impeccable efficiency’  

16 September 2022

Richard Chartres witnessed the proclamation of the new King

Alamy

King Charles III speaks during the Accession Council in St James’s Palace, on Saturday. The Queen Consort and the Prince of Wales stand behind him

King Charles III speaks during the Accession Council in St James’s Palace, on Saturday. The Queen Consort and the Prince of Wales stand behind him

IN THE minor vexations of everyday life, flights cancelled at the eleventh hour, digital frustrations and unreachable customer-service centres, it is pleasant to be able to say that the ceremonies surrounding the accession of King Charles III unfolded with impeccable efficiency.

The script was contained in the hundreds of pages of “London Bridge”: the plan for the events following the death of the sovereign. The document had been refined over many years in regular meetings at which the Duke of Norfolk, hereditary Earl Marshall of England, presided.

The main business of the Accession Council was to approve the text of the proclamation naming King Charles III as the undoubted successor to the crown. There were 700 members of the Privy Council eligible to attend the ceremony at St James’s Palace on Saturday, but, in the event, for reasons of space, only 200 were summoned. It was a great privilege to be included in this number.

Although the Council was timed for 10 a.m., those attending were required to arrive at Marlborough House by 8.45 a.m. for the usual security checks. All royal occasions involve long periods of loitering in antechambers before the principal business begins. As in the Tudor courts, however, such gatherings are a wonderful networking opportunity.

Previous Prime Ministers were there, mingling with members of the present Cabinet. Some aged office-holders like myself were excavated for the occasion, together with a generous sprinkling of judges. It was a particular pleasure to see David Hope, a previous Archbishop of York, who had travelled on a 4 a.m. train from Leeds that morning.

 

PROCEEDINGS began sharp at 10 a.m. with the entry of Penny Mordaunt, the new Lord President of the Council. It is one of the peculiarities of the Privy Council that all meetings are conducted standing up. Queen Victoria found Privy Council meetings tedious, with many Counsellors well into their anecdotage. When Prince Albert died, she directed that meetings should be held standing up, with the happy result of truncating them, and the custom continues to this day.

The King himself was not present at the initial stage of the Council. The Clerk read the Proclamation of Charles III, which was signed by the Queen Consort, the newly appointed Prince of Wales, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lord Chancellor, the Archbishop of York, the Earl Marshal, and the Prime Minister. Directions were then given about gun salutes and public proclamations, including the traditional one from the steps of the Royal Exchange in the City of London.

We then filed into the throne room to await the arrival of the King himself. Dressed sombrely, the King delivered a moving personal address about the Queen’s death. He then took an oath to preserve the independence of the Church of Scotland and the Presbyterian System of Church Government in Scotland which was recognised by the Act of Union in 1707.

There followed items of Privy Council business, notably authorisation of the continued use of a number of existing seals including the Great Seal of the Realm. The seals bear the name of our late Queen and are retained until new seals can be engraved. To each proposal the Monarch simply says “Approved”. In cases where further work needs to be done, the Monarch says “Referred”. On this occasion, however, everything went smoothly.

 

THE King departed and the assembled company went down to the entry corridor of St James’s to add their signatures as witnesses to the Proclamation. Then we spilled into the courtyard. By this time, there were substantial crowds behind barriers at either end of Marlborough Road to hear Garter, King of Arms supported by heralds and pursuivants, Blue Mantle, Rouge Dragon, and the rest in richly embroidered tabards and befeathered bicorns, proclaim the new King from the balcony of the Palace.

“Whereas it has pleased Almighty God to call to his mercy our late Sovereign Lady Queen Elizabeth II of Blessed and Glorious memory, by whose decease the Crown of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is solely and rightfully come to the Prince Charles Philip Arthur George:

“We therefore the Lords Spiritual and Temporal of this Realm, and members of the House of Commons together with other members of Her Majesty’s late Privy Council, and representatives of the Realms and Territories, Aldermen and citizens of London and others do now hereby with one Voice and Consent of Tongue and Heart publish and proclaim that the Prince Charles Philip Arthur George is now . . . our only lawful and rightful Liege Lord Charles III. . . To whom we do acknowledge all Faith and Obedience with humble affection: beseeching God by whom Kings and Queens do reign, to bless His Majesty with long and happy years to reign over Us.”

A cry of “God Save the King” seconded the Proclamation and the crowds at either end of the street echoed the acclamation antiphonally. They had not been rehearsed, but it was beautifully done. Then we dispersed, very conscious of the awesome responsibilities confronting the new King.

 

The Rt Revd Lord Chartres is a Privy Councillor. Read his review of the new book A People’s Church

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